By | Rachel Brooks
November 5, 2020
Above images retrieved from social media public reshare, fair use. The featured image was shared via Caucasus Bureau socially, fair use.
The continued war in the Nagorno-Karabakh, failing for the Armenian side, has become a human rights issue for ethnic Armenians. The nation of Armenia seeks to secure its grip in the Nagorno-Karabakh despite Azerbaijan’s reclamation of lands occupied in the Post-Soviet Karabakh War 1988-1994. Azerbaijan has reclaimed a large enough portion of formerly occupied lands that the odds are stacked to the maximum against Armenia. Without outside intervention, the Armenian forces will likely be forced to withdraw due to a lack of personnel, funds, and equipment.
Despite these facts, Armenia will not relinquish the fight in the Karabakh until it is forced to. This is evidenced by the satellite and photographic reports that the elderly, women, and child recruits have been enlisted to the front.
It is not uncommon to see women in military roles in Armenia. In the laws of Armenia, women have served since the inception of the Republic’s services. Social studies conducted by Arthur Atanesyan of Yerevan State University have suggested women are enlisted and trained in equal roles in the Armenian armed services. However, some women in his study stated that there were a social perception and bias toward their service that they strongly combated the entire time they served. From these reports, women deployed to the frontline is less likely except by necessity, as the apparent perception of superior officers is one of more traditional, patriarchal values.
Deployment of the elderly has been evidenced by photographs of the Karabakh front. The deployment of elderly forces appears to be a last-ditch effort to hold the Karabakh line from Azerbaijan’s reclamation of the occupied territory. In some cases, elderly men were seen fighting alongside their children, including one photograph of a father and his daughter at the front. This indicates the irregular construction of the Armenian armed forces in the region and the fact that citizen fighters are becoming a more common occurrence at the front. The appearance of citizen soldiers at the frontline is due, in part, to an impassioned speech from President Nikol Pashinyan which called on Armenians to join the front line and fight.
Footage has likewise emerged of underaged recruits being trained on assault rifles and heavy artillery. This continues to indicate the irregularity of the Armenian forces. Though a child was caught on footage being trained on heavy artillery, it is not clear from the footage if the exercise was one of combat training, or if the child was actively engaged in combat. The child appears in footage with adult male servicemembers. If the child was engaged in hostilities, this is a direct violation of the OHCHR Convention of the Rights of the Child. The child appears to be younger than 18, and 18 is the minimum age required for engagement in hostilities. Armenia would have violated the terms of its signature on the UN Child Soldier Accord in this case.
Armenian citizens contested that the child was a winner of Armenia’s Got Talent show and that his appearance by the tanks was a prize for his efforts, but Armenia’s Got Talent went off the air in 2010, and its counterpart XFactor Armenia appears to have gone off the air in 2017. The footage is believed to be newer than this, contemporary to the current conflict. Others stated that the child was likely volunteering to help his father at the front, a situation which was described as a “common occurrence” by the Armenian community’s response to the images on social media.
This controversial footage may be proof of contracted Syrian forces presence fighting for Armenia, due to the common occurrence of underaged soldiers in Syrian proxy groups.
Child soldiers at the front are possible further evidence of a Syrian militant group presence at the Armenian frontline. Documentation of the Syrian National Army finds that underaged soldiers of the nation’s poorly funded militias have been deployed to fight foreign wars on behalf of Russia and Turkey in unrelated conflicts. For example, Reuters reported that the defense contracting company Wagner Group, under Russian supervision, has previously contracted Syrian groups to fight in Libya. Reuters cited former Wagner Group personnel as their source in making this statement.
In early October, unconfirmed reports had circulated in the Russian-language news outlet Svoboda, stating that the Wagner Group had mobilized “ready to fight on the side of the armies of Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh (unrecognized republic).” Svoboda cited an article which had appeared in Ura News on September 28. Ura News supplied photographic evidence that anonymous PMC fighters were ready to deploy to the region as early as September 28, one day into the fighting. URA News also quoted the PMC’s interlocutor stating that, for PMC fighters, Armenia was the only logical choice, and as of September 28 they were merely waiting for the call from Armenian forces to deploy, citing that they had not received official volunteer acceptance at that time. This report would indicate that PMC groups were ready to voluntarily deploy to the scene at the conflict’s reprisal.
Armenia, with a strong foreign propaganda base, has argued that Azerbaijan enlisted the recruitment of these soldiers against their forces. This has been backed by many foreign media outlets, as the western world continues to view the regional conflict in terms of proxy war potentially. It is, however, unrealistic to infer that Azerbaijan has recruited insurgencies. Tactically, Azerbaijan has a superior organized force, and so this would be extraneous and unnecessary military spending on the part of the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense. However, Armenia, based on photographic evidence presented, is struggling to maintain the organization of its forces. Enlistment of proxy groups would be in their more affordable interests, as it could occur through voluntary invovlement.
Armenia likewise has its recent historic connections to Syria, documented by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which was most notable through the most active days of the ASALA and Armenian terrorist movements. Likewise, Russia has been known to have a pro-Armenian relationship. Based on probabilities, Armenia would be the more likely party to recruit Syrian proxy groups, either through its connections or through correspondence with the Russian connections to these units.